On Monday, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) school committee approved a request by the school administration to hire a nurse from November to June to support students and staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
High school Principal Sara Dingledy said there was a lot of discussion throughout the summer about what additional nursing and health support would be required due to the pandemic. She said the purpose of the position would be to support the nurse’s office. “Having that nurse capacity, a licensed nurse capacity, is crucial,” Dingeldy said.
The committee approved Dingeldey and financial manager Mark Friedman to look over the school budget to see how the nurse position could be funded, including using COVID contingency funds. A cost for the nurse position was not provided, but D’Andrea did say the nurse position could potentially cover the $46,361 cost of the high school’s share of a COVID testing program.
The high school has two contingency funds, according to Friedman: one for $100,000 and another for $500,000.
Discussion of the new nurse overlapped with a mandatory testing program for Vineyard Schools. Last week, the All-Island School Committee voted to support a mandatory testing program that will test students and staff at Vineyard schools for COVID-19.
Island schools will each have to come up with a share of $150,000, divided up by enrollment. School committees must meet and approve their share. The high school’s share would be $46,361.
The fundraising effort is being led by Dr. Jeffrey Zack, the coordinator and medical point person for the COVID school testing effort.
But at Monday’s meeting, after lengthy discussion, committee members tabled the conversation, citing a lack of information.
Superintendent Matt D’Andrea told committee members the high school could use the hiring of a new nurse as their contribution to the testing program.
“The percentage of the $150,000 that a school district is contributing can be in the form of the nurse’s time,” D’Andrea said.
Committee member Kathryn Shertzer said the high school needs nursing support whether or not the testing program is happening.
Committee member Jeffrey (“Skipper”) Manter felt there wasn’t enough information about what the testing program needed. “It looks like we’re being held up to appropriate money that doesn’t need to be for the testing program,” Manter said.
Other committee members felt the discussion on the funding for the testing program should be separate from hiring a nurse.
“I think the question about paying for the testing and how that’s going to happen really needs to be discussed when we have information about what this program is going to cost, and why they need the money, and what the money’s going to go to,” committee member Amy Houghton said. “We don’t have the information to know what to vote on.”
Committee chair Kimberly Kirk ultimately tabled the conversation on funding the testing program, saying the committee received mixed messages about what the program needed.
“One message was that the hiring of the nurse would go toward our contribution, but it doesn’t seem like that is the entire case,” Kirk said.
Shertzer expressed urgency, and said the longer the committee waits to give a commitment to the testing program, the longer kids are not being tested.
The committee approved the administration of the nurse position, 8-1. Manter voted no, saying it was not clear yet where the money for the nurse was coming from.
The committee also approved using $129,200 in contingency funds for the disinfecting and cleaning of school buses.
Under state guidelines, the high school is recommended to reduce the amount of students on its buses. High school buses normally hold up to 77 students. Now the school is limiting that capacity to 24 to 25 students.
Friedman said the school was able to procure electrostatic spraying machines to disinfect the buses in between runs. “This is all about reducing risk and trying to keep students and staff safer,” Friedman said.